(CBS SF) — Emmy-award winning actor James Gandolfini, best known for his portrayal of Tony Soprano on the HBO television mobster drama “The Sopranos,” died of a heart attack Wednesday while vacationing in Italy, HBO confirmed. He was 51.

Among Gandolfini’s lesser-known credits was an HBO documentary he did that was titled “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq.” It featured U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jay Wilkerson as he underwent rehabilitation for his war injuries at the Palo Alto Veterans’ Administration Hospital.

“We’re all in shock and feeling immeasurable sadness at the loss of a beloved member of our family,” HBO said in a statement issued about Gandolfini’s death.

“He was a special man, a great talent, but more importantly a gentle and loving person who treated everyone no matter their title or position with equal respect,” the HBO statement continued. “He touched so many of us over the years with his humor, his warmth and his humility. Our hearts go out to his wife and children during this terrible time. He will be deeply missed by all of us.”

Gandolfini won three Emmys for his portrayal of the conflicted New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, a groundbreaking role in television that paved the way for other anti-heroes in other dramas. “The Sopranos” aired from 1999 to 2007, ushering HBO into popularity and establishing it as a respected competitor among other cable TV networks.
PHOTOS: Stars Remember James Gandolfini

His other credits included the films “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Killing Them Softly,” as well as appearing in the Broadway production “God of Carnage.”

MORE COVERAGE: CBS New York | CBS Los Angeles

(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved. CBS News contributed to this report.)


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